April 2018 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Pick 5: Spring is in the Air!

For our new “Pick 5” blog series, we ask members of the Radio Bristol team to pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once they pick their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs. With a diverse staff of knowledgeable DJs, we’re sure to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol!

Howdy Folks! It’s your old pal Nathan Sykes here with another installment of “Pick 5”! The dreary days of winter are hopefully behind us, and springtime is here once again. With temperatures rising and the landscape growing greener day by day, it’s hard not to be in good spirits, and, naturally, these good feelings manifest themselves in odes to the spring season leading us to my selection of five songs that are always sure to make me think of spring.

“When the Springtime Comes Again,” The Carter Family

I first heard this piece as “Little Annie” from the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover, but this song by The Carter Family is where they got the tune. What says springtime more than wild sheep wandering through the lane? Well, a lot of things, like birds and bees, but this song from the First Family of Country Music features all of the above.

“I Love You Best of All,” Mac Wiseman  

Here’s a classic from “The Voice with a Heart,” Mac Wiseman. If it is possible for a record to sound like springtime, here it is. The twin fiddles throughout this record are sweeter than the flowers, and Mac’s voice is as warm and bright as sunshine on a spring day.

 “The First Whippoorwill,” Bill Monroe  

While most songs of spring sound lighthearted and easy, here’s one that breaks the mold. In this piece, night birds cry a warning instead of the usual sweet songs of love. With the raw vocal duet of Bill Monroe and guitarist Edd Mayfield and the epic tuning slip midway through the banjo break, this is THE bluegrass music at its best.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCPHv73ZsG8

 “When the Cactus is in Bloom,” Jimmie Rodgers   

From America’s Blue Yodeler, here’s a classic from his 1931 session in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was accompanied by the dynamic duo of Cliff Carlisle and Wilbur Ball. This song makes you yearn for the saddle and the freedom that comes from riding down the dusty trail. And it reminds you that cacti bloom with beautiful spring flowers too.

“Spring Time in Dear Old Dixie,” Reno and Smiley  

Before it is summertime in a southern clime, it has to be spring. The tight harmonies of Don Reno and Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups transport listeners to a bright spring day in that dear old sunny southland, and the joys of spring described here could warm even the dreariest of northern winter days.

So there you have it: my “Pick 5” of springtime songs, bringing to mind blooming flowers and love, warm days and buzzing bees. I hope these tunes put a little “spring” in your step!

Taking Farm and Fun Time Back to Its Roots

On April 12, Farm and Fun Time officially completed two years of shows, and to commemorate this monumental occasion, we had a bluegrass extravaganza for the ages! David Davis & The Warrior River Boys and Ralph Stanley II and The Clinch Mountain Boys, along with host band Bill and the Belles, put on a performance that harkened back to the days of the original Farm and Fun Time in the late 1940s. And thanks to Eastman Credit Union, folks at home were able to tune in too via our WBCM-Radio Bristol Facebook page for a 3-camera live stream.

Farm and Fun Time started off with a set of old-timey favorites from host band Bill and the Belles. After performing the classic “Darktown Strutter’s Ball,” they crooned “Good Gal I’ll Be OK,” an original tune that would touch the heart of even the bluest of blue yodelers. Bill and the Belles were followed fast by this month’s “Heirloom Recipe” segment, presented by Sally Bolling of Lebanon, Virginia. Sally is a longtime supporter of Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, where she coordinates stage emcees and she also makes sure to set aside time to shuttle her favorite artists, including Marty Stuart, around the festival site. Learning the ins and outs of country cooking from her mother and grandmother, Sally found out early that the most important ingredient in making good cornbread is a cast iron skillet, especially one that has been passed down from a loved one. Bill and the Belles echoed this sentiment in their handwritten jingle “If It’s Good Enough For Granny, It’s Good Enough For Me.”

Right pic: Bill and the Belles clustered together on stage to sing; Left: Sally Bolling at the mic on stage
Bill and the Belles play their opening numbers at April’s Farm and Fun Time, followed by Sally Bolling’s guide to making perfect cornbread. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Our first musical guest of the evening was David Davis & The Warrior River Boys. Considering that David’s uncle Cleo was Bill Monroe’s first Bluegrass Boy, it’s only natural that the sounds of early bluegrass are at the core of what the Warrior River Boys do. A member of the Alabama Bluegrass Hall of Fame, Davis founded the Warrior River Boys in 1984 and has been entertaining audiences with raw, high-energy performances ever since. Though the Warrior River Boys are a bluegrass band through and through, many of tonight’s selections were drawn from the old-time catalogue of the “Grandfather of Bluegrass Music,” the ramblin’ and rowdy Charlie Poole. Selections from Poole included “The Ramblin’ Blues” and “The Highwayman.” These and other Charlie Poole tunes will be available on their upcoming Rounder Record Didn’t He Ramble: The Songs of Charlie Poole, set for release this summer.

Right pic focuses in one of the Warrior River Boys on guitar; Top left pic focuses in on David Davis playing guitar and singing; Bottom left pic shows the whole band in front of the audience
David Davis & The Warrior River Boys played a great set to an enthusiastic Farm and Fun Time audience. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

For our “ASD Farm Report,” Radio Bristol visited Opossum’s Bottom Farm and Ziegenwald Dairy in Gate City, Virginia. Jack Woodworth showed us his dairy goats and the cheeses that his family makes from their milk. Check out this video from our trip to Ziegenwald Dairy:

Our last musical guests of the evening, Ralph Stanley II and The Clinch Mountain Boys, brought the program full circle. When the original Farm and Fun Time debuted on WCYB on December 26, 1946, The Stanley Brothers and The Clinch Mountain Boys was the first band featured on that storied program. Over 70 years later, we were honored to have Ralph II perform on the present-day Farm and Fun Time, our live radio program based on the show that launched his legendary father’s career. Ralph II and The Clinch Mountain Boys performed a rousing set of traditional bluegrass that encompassed all the sounds of that genre. In addition to Ralph II singing his hits like “Bluefield,” banjo player Alex Leach sang a powerful a capella piece, a style that was introduced to bluegrass audiences by Ralph Stanley in the early 1970s, and fiddler John Rigsby fiddled the classic “Listen to the Mockingbird.” Farm and Fun Time is a significant element in the story of The Stanley Brothers, and it was an honor for the continuation of both of these legacies to cross paths on this night.

Right pic shows the full band; left pic focuses in on Ralph II singing with a couple of his band members nearby
Ralph Stanley II and The Clinch Mountain Boys brought the legacy of Stanley’s father to the Farm and Fun Time stage. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Tickets for May’s show featuring Roy Book Binder and Traveller are still available, but they’re going fast. For more information and to purchase tickets for this event, visit www.listenradiobristol.org! We hope to see you there!

“The Big Lineup Reveal” – Bona Fide Bristol Rhythm ’18

By Charlene Tipton Baker, April 18, 2018

The first time Old Crow Medicine Show played Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, it was 2004. I have particularly fond memories of that year because, in my mind, that’s when we became a bona fide music festival – one destined to make as big of an impact on Bristol and our downtown community as the 1927 Bristol Sessions did for early commercial country music back in the day.

One might say Hollywood had a hand in it, as the success of three major motion picture soundtracks over the previous years had sparked popular interest in Appalachian music: The Coen Brothers’ cult classic O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Maggie Greenwald’s Songcatcher, both released in 2000, and Cold Mountain, which opened in 2003. The albums from these films were wildly successful, winning dozens of awards – Grammys and Grammy nominations among them – and cast a wide spotlight on the music and musicians of our region like never before. O Brother highlighted the career of Dr. Ralph Stanley, bringing him the further recognition he so richly deserved. Our friends the Reeltime Travelers (based in East Tennessee) were featured on the Cold Mountain soundtrack and were part of the “Down from the Mountain Tour,” an extension of the documentary film by the same name that featured artists and musicians from the O Brother soundtrack. In addition, our very own Ed Snodderly, a renowned singer-songwriter and owner of The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, played a crazy fiddler in O’ Brother. The stars were totally aligned in our favor.

Still from the movie O Brother Where Are Thou? showing two old-time musicians (Ed Snodderly on fiddle)
Ed Snodderly (right) as Village Idiot in O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2001 Courtesy Buena Vista Pictures

By the time we started booking for 2004’s Bristol Rhythm, a trajectory had been set, and “Wagon Wheel” was nowhere near cliché. That was the year I fell in love with the festival – and Bristol – for real. That was the year I knew that my little hometown was destined for so much more. It would prove to be a record-breaking year for attendance (maybe 20–25,000? If memory serves!), and I will never forget the energy on State Street. It was magical.

I remember seeing Old Crow for the first time that weekend in 2004. They were so young and scruffy in their worn jeans, wrinkled flannel shirts, and unkempt hair. They were just kids! But they were absolutely on fire when they hit the stage. They played two sets that weekend, and they were the band everyone was talking about.

Front of the 2004 Bristol Rhythm rack card listing bands who played at the festival, including Old Crow Medicine Show.
The Bristol Rhythm 2004 rack card. © Birthplace of Country Music

I will add that they were also really nice to our volunteers and expressed genuine gratitude for the gig. And they knew Bristol’s history, even if Bristol wasn’t yet fully aware of that history yet. Every time I watch the films in the Orientation and Immersion Theaters inside the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, I am so glad to see those guys featured in them. Old Crow Medicine Show helped incite a new wave of progressive Appalachian music not seen since the days of Newgrass Revival – bands that would wield banjos like rock stars and generate enough crowd energy to fuel a small city.

Old Crow Medicine Show on stage at Bristol Rhythm 2005, seen from behind looking out at audience
Old Crow Medicine Show on stage in 2005 when they returned to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. © Birthplace of Country Music

“The Big Lineup Reveal” for Bristol Rhythm ’18 stirred up a bit of sentimentality for 2004, which I didn’t quite expect, and lots of excitement for the return of Old Crow Medicine Show this year. So when putting together the 2018 Bristol Rhythm Spotify playlist, I felt it rather appropriate to start out with Old Crow singing “Wagon Wheel” – because it is a great song, despite the crappy covers, and it’s the one song that I identify most with Bristol Rhythm ’04, the year that defined the festival and paved the way for the lineup we’ll have this year. I hope you enjoy this eclectic mix tape of bands playing at Bristol Rhythm ’18!

All for One, and One for All!

Alexandre Dumas wasn’t talking about museums when he wrote the famous “All for one, and one for all” cry of the Three Musketeers. Rather it was a rallying cry of solidarity in the midst of derring-do and various battles of wit and strength.

Nevertheless, this motto is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few months, but in relation to those who work in the museum and cultural institution field rather than swashbuckling adventurers. (Though museum people can swash and buckle with the best of them – spend time in any conference hospitality suite at the end of a long day of presentations and learning if you don’t believe me!) And here’s why: Cultural and heritage bodies are great organizers, especially organizing themselves into professional associations. And these professional organizations are hugely important to the success and growth of each individual institution within them, and all of those individual institutions work together to make that professional association stronger and more effective.

Here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum we are fortunate to belong to several associations, from big to small: American Alliance of Museums (AAM), Smithsonian Affiliations, Southeast Museums Conference (SEMC), American Association of State and Local History (AASLH), Virginia Association of Museums (VAM), Tennessee Association of Museums (TAM), and Northeast Tennessee Museum Association (NETMA). And each and every one of them brings us benefits, every day and in so many ways:

Professional Development

Professional associations offer a host of wonderful opportunities for professional development through conferences, webinars, courses, workshops, training, online resources, and networking events. Conferences and networking events give us the chance to learn about what other museums are doing, discuss common challenges, and brainstorm strategies and solutions. The conference sessions cover a huge variety of topics – from educational programming to board membership to digital trends to accessioning collections (and more!) – which means that every role in an organization is sure to gain valuable insights into their daily work. And these professional associations not only include the broader ones noted above, but there are also a host of more specific groups that use conferences, events, and online forums as a chance to go even deeper into topics and needs relevant to museums. For instance, NAME (National Association of Museum Exhibition) focuses on exhibit design and development while DIVCOM (AAM’s Diversity Committee) focuses on the advancement of diversity and inclusion, and our Digital Resources Manager has found that his museum degree alumni group offers continued support and other opportunities.

Courses and workshops are also a great way to learn about a topic, and training provides useful skills to put into practice at your work. However, webinars in particular offer a low-cost route to that learning, while still also giving you the chance to interact with other professionals in your field. Our staff have attended many a webinar at their desk, exploring topics such as Twitter for Museums, image copyright, or audience evaluation, but we have also hosted a couple of AAM “live” webinars where other local and regional museum peers have come to our museum to watch the webinar streaming in the Performance Theater – these are particularly useful because you then have time together afterwards to discuss the topic and network with the other webinar watchers. I always walk away from webinars with a list of ideas and action points to follow up on, and often even with a name or two of people I want to connect with in order to talk further about the topic. In the nonprofit world of museums and cultural institutions, webinars and other online resources – such as AAM’s Resource Library and its variety of sample documents or the many online forums and newsletters out there – are a great way to learn and work together and to find ways to tackle just about any challenge you might face in your own museum.

3 images: VAM conference brochure and swag; cover of TAM conference brochure; inside of TAM conference brochure showing various sessions offered
A couple of conference brochures illustrate the diversity of themes and topics explored. Right: © Birthplace of Country Music, Center and Left: Courtesy of Bill Hickerson

Inspiration

One of the best things about our connection to professional associations and their many events and programs is the huge amount of inspiration we gain from them. For instance, the TAM conference I attended in March gave us some new ideas about different ways we can use old photographs and objects to engage kids more directly when they are visiting the museum, something I hope our docents will be able to put into practice in the near future. And earlier this year I went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts partner exchange, where all of the participating museums presented about their current exhibits, programs, and events, sharing a host of ideas for bringing visitors through the doors and getting them connected to our content.

A lot of the inspiration, however, comes from actual visits to other museums, historic sites, and organizations, which is a major feature of most conferences. These visits give you the chance to see the ideas that are talked about at conferences, in webinars, and online “on the ground,” a wonderful way to assess their impact and to get the gears going in your own mind about how those ideas might work on the ground for your museum.

4 images: Corinth Contraband Camp entrance with sculpture of woman with hands on hips and sign; Corinth battlefield interpretative center courtyard fountain/sculpture; women's suffrage advertisement for protest in 1913; museum sign about the level of immigration in 1914 (1 in 7, about the same as today).
One of the things I love the most about visits and tours is getting a chance to see how museums tackle difficult and topical subjects, offering visitors the chance to think critically about a host of important issues – from questions of freedom during the Civil War and the continuing issues of race today to women’s march to suffrage to the realities of a country born of immigrants. © Birthplace of Country Music

Advocacy

Every day our professional associations are working hard for museums, historic sites, cultural institutions, and libraries. They advocate about our importance to local, state, and federal governments, giving them numbers and facts and figures to underline the impact that our institutions have on the economy, education, and quality of life. They are doing this in small ways, such as through social media; in grassroots ways through letter writing and petitions; and in big ways, with feet on the ground, visiting our senators and representatives to state the case for funding and support. For the first time, I had the chance to participate this February in one of those events during VAM’s Museum Advocacy Day in Richmond – we spent the day visiting with state legislators, talking about their memories of and experiences with museums, telling them our ideas for engaging the state’s citizens in history and heritage, the arts and culture, and so much more. It was a real chance to see the importance of professional associations to the field as a whole, but also to be inspired and gratified by the support we gave each other and that we received from the people we met at the capitol.

AAM's Museum Advocacy Day 2018 logo
The American Alliance of Museums organizes a nation-wide advocacy event every year, while many state museum associations do the same at the state level. © American Alliance of Museums

Partnership

Each professional association we belong to gives us the opportunity to form new and fruitful partnerships with other museums and sites. From these connections, we’ve worked with a variety of other institutions to present conference sessions together on topics as diverse as Smithsonian Magazine’s Museum Day Live!, using crowdfunding to get the support needed for cultural projects, and working with performing arts groups to deliver museum programming. Our relationships with our sister institutions also lead us to new exhibits to bring to our Special Exhibits Gallery – this is how we found out about Made in Tennessee, which we featured in 2016, and I Have a Voice, which will come to the museum next year. And we are also able to work with other museums who may have previously hosted those exhibits to share resources and event ideas that have been created as supplements to the exhibit. These associations also bring the possibility of joint promotion and programming, especially on a local and regional level with our participation in NETMA and amongst our peers at Smithsonian Affiliations. And while we think of partnerships as always being a product of positive times, those connections also help in the midst of challenging ones – for instance, our Disaster Plan lists all of the local and regional cultural institutions that we could turn to for support and expertise in the case of a disaster hitting our museum.

Assessment, Recognition, and Support

Through our connection to AAM, we participated in the Museum Assessment Program in 2016—17. Other organizations like AASLH offer similar evaluative programs such as StEPs. These types of assessment exercises give museums the chance to look at themselves realistically, to analyze their strengths and challenges, and to make plans for sustainability and growth within those parameters – often the first step to future accreditation. At the same time, most professional associations offer a variety of ways to bring recognition to their member organizations through awards and other tangible support.

2 images: One shows the two TAM Awards of Excellence the museum received in March 2018; the other shows Head Curator Rene Rodgers accepting the $5000 check from VAM for their Top 10 Endangered Artifacts competition.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum has received a number of awards from professional associations, including two TAM 2018 Awards of Excellence for our blog (!) and our special event, the 90th Anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions Symposium. Through VAM’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts, we also received preservation funding for our Farm and Fun Time radio transcription disc. © Birthplace of Country Music

Friendship

Finally, and sometimes most importantly, friendships come out of these professional associations, which makes working in the often challenging, always passionate field of museums and cultural institutions easier, more interesting, and just plain more fun!

All for one, and one for all!

2 images: The TAM 2018 attendees at the entrance to the Corinth Contraband Camp site; the TAM board members striking funny poses
TAM conference attendees pose at the Corinth Contraband Camp entry, while the TAM board goofs around for the camera at the end of a successful conference. Right image courtesy of Bill Hickerson, left image courtesy of Tori Mason

 

 

Chasing Down the “Big-Eyed Rabbit”

All kinds of animals pop up in old-time songs. I got a mule to ride, my horses ain’t hungry they won’t eat your hay, cluck old hen, Indian ate a woodchuck, as well as pigs, possums and polecats – the list is endless. But my favorite will always be the big-eyed rabbit – appropriate for a post on the Easter weekend! It’s not the best-known old-time song out there, but it is one that is quite popular in southwest Virginia and northwest North Carolina.

A photograph of a rabbit in a meadow.
A real – rather than musical – big-eyed rabbit. Public domain image found on Pixabay

Rabbits are well represented in the old-time canon. Talking about rabbit songs with Trish Fore, a fellow BCM blogger and banjo player for The Cabin Creek Boys, she also threw out “Ol’ Captain Rabbit,” “Run Little Rabbit Run,” “Buck Eyed Rabbit” (recorded by the Hillbillies), and an old favorite I had forgotten, “Old Molly Hare.” Her husband Kevin, also a banjo player as well as a luthier, added “Little Rabbit Where’s Your Mammy?,” recorded by Crockett’s Kentucky Mountaineers. Another perennial favorite is “Rabbit Up a Gum Stump” (though sometimes it’s a possum up a gum stump), a favorite of such southwest Virginia legends as Albert Hash and Thornton Spencer.

Yonder comes a rabbit,
Fast as he can run,
Yonder comes another one,

Shoot him with a double-barrel gun, lord,
Shoot him with a double-barrel gun.

Figuring out the background and recording history of most old-time songs can get hazy, and my research first led me to a version of “Big-Eyed Rabbit” that seems to have been recorded in May 1939. That recording, done in Quitman, Mississippi, is in the Library of Congress and the credits are as follows: Sung by Charles L. Long with fiddle, with Sam Neal beating straws. I thought this version was the first recording of the song, but then found mention of Samantha Bumgarner recording 10 songs (often with Eva Davis) for Columbia Records in April 1924, one of which was “Big-Eyed Rabbit.”

Columbia record label for Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis's "Big-Eyed Rabbit"
The record label for Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis’s “Big-Eyed Rabbit,” Columbia 129-D (81710). Archie Green Collection (#20002), Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Whatever the origin, the song found enduring popularity in the Round Peak area of North Carolina as well as north of there around Galax, Virginia. It was recorded by Tommy Jarrell, Kirk Sutphin, and Kyle Creed and Fred Cockerham at various points. Kirk learned it from Tommy, who in turn had learned it from his father, Ben Jarrell. Trish told me: “I always thought that people sang about what they knew and things they enjoyed. Rabbit hunting is sport and also provided meat and food for the family back in the day, and even for some today. I know folks who still eat rabbit.”

Different versions of the song have two or three rabbit-related verses, in one of which the rabbit ends up in a frying pan. In another verse, seemingly out of place with the others, the song’s narrator sees his darling coming, telling us “her pretty blue eyes/shining bright like gold.”

Regardless, it’s a song that has got legs. It continues to be a favorite, recorded in the last few years by Crooked Road locals like Mountain Park Old Time Band and the New Ballard’s Branch Bogtrotters, who liked it so much they included it on two consecutive albums, the second of which even included an additional verse.

It has also captivated musicians from further afield. Canadian fiddler and step dancer April Verch, from Ontario’s Ottawa Valley, recorded the song and even borrowed the line “Bright like gold” for the title of the album it appears on. Verch is no stranger to southwest Virginia, having appeared at the Wayne Henderson Guitar Festival and Competition, and at a concert I attended a few years ago in Takoma Park, Maryland, she explained that she learned “Big-Eyed Rabbit” from watching an old documentary about – who else – Tommy Jarrell. Whatever the reasons for his popularity, the big-eyed rabbit, still skipping through the sand, is clearly here to stay.

Joseph Vess lives in Meadowview, VA, where he listens to lots of old-time music and occasionally plays the guitar. He thanks Trish and Kevin Fore for their invaluable assistance with this story. For more on the lyrics and history of “Big-Eyed Rabbit,” check out this link.